What People Watch articles

What People Watch: Weather, seasonality and television viewing

18 May 2020

Welcome to What People Watch, a new series exploring different aspects of how UK audiences are watching television now. In this week’s edition, we look at how the weather affects television viewing – and whether the pandemic has overcome the usual seasonal trends.

TV set viewing to BARB-reported channels

For the week ending May 10th (calendar week 19), consolidated 7-day TV set viewing to BARB-reported channels continued to be high, at 199 minutes per day. This was a 13-minute decrease over the previous week, confirming the slight drop indicated by the earlier preliminary live and same-day viewing figures.

Unidentified viewing for week 19 was 85 minutes a day, also down slightly on the previous week (93 mins).

Preliminary live and same-day viewing figures for the week-ending May 17th (calendar week 20) indicate that we may see stability overall once consolidated 7-day TV set figures are available. Like-for-like comparison gives 184 minutes a day for week 20 (183 for week 19), so it is likely to increase to similar final levels next week. Unidentified viewing is also stable, at 86 minutes.

Although lockdown restrictions have been somewhat relaxed in parts of the UK as of May 14th, there has not been any significant impact on television viewing levels just yet. Day-by-day comparison of the live and same-day data for week 20 versus week 19 shows that Mon-Sat levels were generally higher than the earlier week, with a drop in viewing on Sunday being the main reason that overall levels for the two weeks were similar. Improved Sunday weather this week may have had an influence, as our focus below demonstrates the impact that weather can have on viewing patterns. We’ll continue to monitor television viewing patterns as the lockdown eases.

Weather, seasonality and television viewing

It’s clear from previous editions of What People Watch that the lockdown has resulted in a significant increase in television viewing, as more people are at home. However, a pandemic is not the only factor that affects how much time we spend at home and so how much television we watch. For instance, weekday viewing, when people are at work or school, is generally lower than at weekends. Similarly, children’s viewing levels are higher during school holidays, and overall viewing levels are usually highest over the Christmas and New Year period.

As the chart above illustrates, television viewing is usually lower in the sunnier summer months and higher in the colder winter months. A typical person will watch 30-40 minutes more television per day in the winter than in the summer.

The weather is a staple of conversation among Britons. What do we know about how weather affects television viewing on an everyday basis, beyond seasonality? BARB uses Met Office data to model how television viewing responds to the weather. Our model estimates the impact of the maximum daily temperature and the daily hours of sunshine on total TV set use (this comprises all TV set use, including viewing to BARB-reported channels, SVOD and online video services, DVDs and gaming). It shows that for each additional hour of sunshine in a day, total TV set use declines by 2.7 minutes, and that each additional degree of temperature corresponds to a decline in total TV set use of 1.7 minutes. The opposite occurs on colder and gloomier days.

We use this model to look at underlying trends in television viewing once the effects of the weather have been taken into account. The weather in April 2020 was good compared to previous years, with an average maximum daily temperature of 15.9°C and 7.9 hours of sunshine. Our model estimated that total TV set use would normally have been an average of 228 minutes per day for the month. In fact, total TV set use in April 2020 was 35% higher, clearly demonstrating the impact that the ‘stay at home’ pandemic messaging had on increasing television viewing.

The impact of the lockdown on television viewing varies across audiences. The groups that have been most affected are those that are usually lighter linear television viewers: 16-34-year-olds and children. Both of these groups’ viewing levels were 54% higher than we would have expected in April 2020, given the weather.

What People Watch will return with more insights into UK viewing behaviour.

Jeremy Martin, Insights Manager, BARB

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